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      Car History: Car History Year 1992
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 13:43:39 UTC by Cars
      Cars In some ways, the evolution of the Dodge Viper could be said to have run parallel to the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 of 1989, and the on-the-road performance of the two cars is also pretty close. But while GM went looking in England for some technical expertise from Lotus, Chrysler homed in on Italy and Lamborghini for their European connection.

    The other major difference is, of course, that while the ZR-1 was a development of an existing production model, the Viper was a totally new vehicle and came from a manufacturer that had never previously been associated with a sports car. And, unlike the Corvette variant, the genesis of the Dodge was a concept car that was built to create publicity on the auto show circuit rather than a serious corporate decision to enter a very specialist market sector. With a name like Viper there was no doubt where the inspiration for this awesome two-seater had come from - the 'sixties Shelby Cobra. Another American/British hybrid, the Cobra was the brainchild of Texan racecar driver and constructor Carroll Shelby, who married the muscle of Ford V8 engines to the chassis and bodies produced by AC Cars of Thames Ditton in Surrey, near London, England, to create an all-time classic that has been cloned many times over. As well as providing the inspiration, Carroll Shelby himself was involved at the early beginnings of the Viper idea, but the throbbing heart of this car was its 400 horsepower 8-liter (488 cu.in.) V-10 engine. And the story behind this amazing powerplant goes back to the latter half of 1987, when American Motors Corporation was bought by Chrysler and turned into the Jeep/Eagle division. One result of this amalgamation was the creation of the Jeep & Truck Engineering Department, which was given the task of revamping the Dodge Ram full-size pickup truck range. A prime requirement in this process was the need to provide a larger capacity engine to compete with the big block V8s on offer from Ford and Chevy. It was apparent that the existing 5.9-liter (360 cu.in.) small-block Chrysler V8 couldn't be stretched any further so the notion of building a V-10 by simply adding two cylinders to the end of the block was discussed. At the behest of Chrysler President Bob Lutz, just such an exercise was carried out and, much to the consternation of those experts who said the V-10 would produce unbearable vibration, the experimental engine performed remarkably well. There was still a great deal of development work needed before the V-10 would be ready for everyday use, but more prototype V-10 engines were tested and one of these was used in the Viper show car that caused such a sensation when it appeared for the first time at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 1989. This gave rise to the myth that the Viper was powered by nothing more than a truck engine. This was far from the truth. Bernard Robertson (then Vice President of Jeep & Truck Engineering): "As the Viper program evolved, we needed numerous changes to package the V-10, which led to the low profile cross ram intake with dual throttle bodies, unique cast steel exhaust manifolds and revised oil pan, front end accessory drive system, etc. We also needed a significant weight reduction and were enticed by the 150 pounds or so achievable with aluminum versus cast iron. Because Lamborghini are experts in aluminum and have captive casting facilities, i personally delivered the iron block truck engine blueprints to Mauro Forghieri in March 1989 and arranged for the first five sets of aluminum blocks and heads to come from Italy." "Lamborghini also proposed some innovative changes to the cooling system and crankshaft balance, which we adopted," he added. "During the development process, we increased the compression ratio, lightened the pistons, increased the valvetrain critical speed, changed the valve sizes and strengthened the rods and crank, all to achieve 400bhp in Viper configuration. Consequently, the only remaining components shared with the truck engine are some nuts and bolts and minor valvetrain pieces, although the bore, stroke and architecture remain common." "As you can see, there is a strong family connection between the two versions of the V-10 engine, although each is optimized for its particular application. Both were developed by Jeep & Truck Engineering and both are built at our Mound Road engine plant in Detroit. Lamborghini played a valuable supporting role and their aluminum design and casting expertise probably saved us six months." But if the V-10 gave the Viper its venom, the curvaceous bodywork undeniably added to the car's immediate appeal. The design concept arose following a series of meetings early in 1988 which, at various times, involved two or more of Carroll Shelby, Bob Lutz, Francois Castaing (Vice President of Vehicle Engineering), Tom Gale (Vice President of Product Design) and renowned Chrysler President Lee lacocca. Once the idea for a balls-out sports car had been aired, it didn't take Gale longer than a couple of weeks to progress from his "back of an envelope" sketches to a sheaf of styling drawings. With approval granted, the next stage was to make a full-size clay mockup and from there, the original show car soon followed. Although all the people involved in the Viper project at Dodge and Chrysler were highly enthusiastic about the car, it is unlikely that many of them believed at the outset that it would ever be put into volume production. After all, it was nothing more than a "back to basics" front-engined. rear-wheel-drive, two-seat sportster without a top - a no-frills, high-performance fantasy machine from an auto manufacturer that had experienced a torrid time over the previous ten years. But the Viper struck a chord in the hearts of American drivers like few other show cars before or since. Yes, it was impractical. Yes, its 8-liter engine and 166mph top speed were out of step with 1990s concerns about the environment and safety. But it didn't matter. Every red-blooded person who saw the Viper wanted one. Deposit checks and orders were mailed to Chrysler's head office in Highland Park, dealers were inundated with enquiries whenever the Viper appeared and the media gave it rave reviews. Chrysler had, unwittingly perhaps, tapped into a rich vein of customer demand. Eventually, in May 1990, Lee lacocca announced that the Viper would go into production in early 1992. Turning a show car into something that can be used out on the highway isn't a simple task. Yet surprisingly few changes were needed to the original Viper body design in order to make it work. Engineering was more complicated but, even so, the original ethos of the Viper remains. It is not a practical car, there are no side windows and no air conditioning, it is noisy and you get buffeted by the wind at high speed- but, the fact remains it is fun! When the 1992 Vipers went on sale you could have any color you liked providing you wanted red (black became available in '93 and other colors subsequently followed). But the demand for the $50,000 car was almost insatiable and it still remains popular today. Looking back, it can be said that the Viper helped enormously in transforming the image of Chrysler. In much the same fashion as the Chevy Bel Air of 1955 altered forever the American public's perception of GM's cheapest brand name, the Viper showed the world that a revitalized Chrysier Corporation was changing into an innovative and imaginative organization that was prepared to take chances. It has certainly paid off, big time. Specification 1992 DODGE VIPER Engine V10 - All Aluminum Displacement 488 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.00 x 3.88 ins. Horsepower 400 Body styles Roadster No. of seats 2 Weight (lbs) 3,476 Ibs Price $50,000 Produced 162     Specification 1992 FORD TAURUS SHO Engine V6 - Cast iron block/aluminum head Displacement 182 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.50x3.15 ins. Horsepower 220 Body styles 4 Door sedan No. of seats 5 Weight (lbs) 3,309 Ibs Price $23,889 Produced 8,000     Specification 1992 PONTIAC FIREBIRD TRANS-AM HATCHBACK Engine V6 - Cast iron block & head Displacement 191 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.50x3.31 ins. Horsepower 140 Body styles Hatchback coupe (also convertible) No. of seats 5 Weight (lbs) 3,343 Ibs Price $18,105 Produced 52,500 (all Firebirds)     Specification 1992 CHEVROLET CAPRICE CLASSIC Engine V8 - Cast iron block & head Displacement 305 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.74 x 3.48 ins. Horsepower 170 Body styles 4 door sedan No. of seats 6 Weight (lbs) 3,951 Ibs Price $19,300 Produced 116,779 (all Caprices)  
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